A plan by the Chinese government to demolish parts of the city of Kashgar has drawn criticism from an exiled leader of the Uighur community, who has accused Beijing of destroying the Muslim minority's culture.
The Silk Road city of Kashgar is a market town in China's western Xinjiang region that borders Central Asia and was a meeting point for Chinese and Central Asian traders.
"The demolition of Kashgar Old City is an affront to Uighur identity and is an attempt to assimilate Uighurs," Rebiya Kadeer, a Washington-based exile, said in a statement on Wednesday.
"I lament the loss of such a unique site of world heritage, and call on people across the globe to let the Chinese government know that this demolition robs the world of an irreplaceable community."
Kadeer heads the Uighur American Association, and was a prominent businesswoman in Xinjiang but was jailed in 1999 for allegedly "leaking state secrets".
She was released and sent into exile in 2005.
Despite an influx of Han Chinese immigrants into the area in recent decades, Kashgar is mainly populated by Turkic-speaking Uighurs and other Central Asian ethnic groups such as Kazakhs and Tajiks.
According to a report on the Xinjiang government's news website, the buildings in the city are dangerous and need to be demolished and rebuilt.
"The ancient city is dangerous and has become susceptible to a serious earthquake disaster," the report said.
"With a history of over 1,000 years it is under constant erosion from the elements."
In February, the government launched a $440m plan to move nearly 50,000 families out of Kashgar's ancient city centre.